The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has petitioned the National Assembly (NASS) over the case of the 54 soldiers convicted for mutiny after requesting for more equipment in the fight against Boko Haram.
In a press statement signed by the director of MURIC, Professor Ishaq Akintola, the group said it is concerned because Islam frowns on injustice.
The petition read in part: “The 54 soldiers on whose behalf we have written this petition are presently serving a ten-year jail term. They had fought shoulder to shoulder with their colleagues against Boko Haram fighters who were armed to the teeth. They had earlier advanced with their battalion on 9th July, 2014 under Lt. Col K. C. Uwa to recapture Damboa but they were ambushed and they lost 23 men and four officers due to inadequate equipment. Without fresh arms and without a single armoured tank, they were again asked to advance on Damboa, Deluwa and Bullabilin.
“They therefore requested for more equipments from their commander, Lt. Col. Oporum. It was not a mutiny. It was a mere request. But instead of giving them more arms before facing a better equipped enemy, they were rounded up. They were first sentenced to death on 17th December, 2014 although this was commuted to ten years imprisonment each by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Major General Tukur Yusuf Buratai in December 2015.
“This is the ‘crime’ committed by the 54 soldiers. They blew the whistle on the famous $2.1 billion which was meant for arms but which politicians shared among themselves. They are whistle blowers and this government is a government of change. The present administration called for whistle blowers and there have been responses. It has led to the recovery of billions of stolen money and some whistle blowers have already been compensated. What is the difference between the 54 soldiers and other whistle blowers? They have been in jail since. But is that where they should be?
“The religion of those soldiers does not matter to us. They are fellow Nigerians who fought to keep Boko Haram away from the rest of us. Keeping those 54 soldiers in jail is tantamount to gross travesty of justice. We began the struggle to free the 54 soldiers in December 2015 with press statements on the subject matter. This is the thirteenth press statement we have issued on the subject matter to date and they can all be verified.
“Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members of the House, you must not allow this injustice to stand. These 54 soldiers fought for their country but they discovered that Boko Haram was gaining the upper hand due to the fact that the terrorists had better weapons. They knew that the government had released money for the purchase of arms but Nigerian soldiers continued to use archaic weapons at the war front. They knew that Boko Haram might overwhelm the whole North East if nothing was done. They therefore raised the alarm. They are now languishing in jail with the terribly inhuman condition for which Nigerian corrective centres are notorious. Our lawmakers cannot afford to ignore them.
Like Portia in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (Act IV, Scene I), we approach our Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members of the House crying “The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath; it is twice blest; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes…”
“The ongoing armsgate trials have revealed that Nigerian soldiers were actually deprived of arms at the time while the politicians diverted money meant for the procurement of arms to electioneering campaigns. This may have informed the decision of the COAS to commute the death sentence of the 54 soldiers to ten years imprisonment.
“The COAS has shown mercy to some extent. The rest is in the hands of our lawmakers. To set them free or not to set them free? That is the question. It hurts severely to be made to suffer for so long for exposing large scale corruption in the army. We remind respected members of the NASS that it was this case which actually revealed the massive graft involving arms fund meant for soldiers fighting Boko Haram. It is therefore paradoxical that the 54 soldiers who blew the whistle on armsgate are undergoing punishment for exposing corruption in the army.
Equally ironical is the fact that the 54 soldiers who acted as whistle-blowers in the arms fund case are rotting in jail at a time the Federal Government promised reward for whistle-blowers in corruption cases. It is a sad twist of fate and it may serve as a source of deterrent for prospective whistle-blowers if their case is not urgently revisited.
“We believe that setting them free will reinforce the patriotic zeal in hundreds of soldiers who are currently fighting insurgents in the North Eastern part of the country. These 54 soldiers are from different religious and ethnic backgrounds brought together by fate and a burning passion to free their country from the claws of terrorists. Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members of the Green Chamber, we rest our case”.